We know that being a student parent can be difficult, but we're here to help.
Mary, your Vice President (Business & Law) spoke to Lauren Hayes, the founding member and President of the Parents in Education Society in Cambridge to share her struggles of being both a parent and a student, and why she set up a society for those in a similar position.
What are the struggles with juggling being a parent and a student?
"I found the social aspects hard as I was always rushing out of lectures to return to my care responsibilities which meant I didn’t join any societies or attend welcome events. Juggling the workload alongside having a young child has meant I have had to become strict regarding the time I allocate to studying, particularly as there is so much reading to get through. My first set of assignments clashed with the Christmas holidays, so it was difficult to get them done with my son at home round the clock, in hindsight I should have used childcare facilities or asked family and friends to help out."
"For me personally a big adjustment was my son starting school at the same time as me starting university, we were both very overwhelmed for the first few months. I know a few parents who have struggled financially over the initial period whilst their entitlements have been reassessed for things such as housing benefit and the child care grants have been processing, this has been an added stress for myself and others."
What would your advice be to a parent at university?
"It is really obvious but try and get organised as early as possible, with childcare and finances etc. Knowing what's happening means you can focus more on the transition into the new routine. Make sure you use your support network, my family and friends were vital in easing the strain of juggling starting university and my son starting reception."
"Make an appointment with the money advice team if you feel unsure about what you are entitled to, they were really helpful informing me of everything I should apply for - housing benefit, council tax exemption, parents learning allowance, childcare grants, etc. I personally recommend if you need any support, the SU offers an advice service which is separate to the university. Through them you can also apply for the inclusivity fund and access lots of information for parents on their website here. Get involved with the SU officers and see what campaigns and events they are running. I set up a messenger group for parents prior to starting university and through that touched base with Mary and got involved with her carers awareness campaign which led to the start of the Parents in Education society."
What is the Parents in Education Society?
"The parents in Education society is a base for parents to come together with other individuals who also have care responsibilities. It seeks to include all individuals who are caring for children alongside their studies. I have a fantastic support network outside of university which has enabled me to return to education, I wanted to create that within university with people who are all experiencing the same thing. I do believe it takes a village to raise a child, even if that is someone to share in your despair at the end of a bad day or celebrate the small wins such as getting a piece of work completed. That is what the society aims to provide."
"We are planning a launch event on Saturday 23rd of February which will be an informal get together. We welcome all parents along with their children to come and get involved."
What inspired you to create a Parents Society?
"I had looked at the current societies before starting university and found they either clashed with my timetable or run meet ups in the evenings which meant I wouldn’t be able to go. I spoke to a few parents I know who felt the same way, that they were missing out on the social aspect of university. Once I was in touch with Mary and had met for a chat about her campaign, I realised there was indeed a bit of a gap regarding parents and carers, which Mary is addressing in her campaign. I decided to also do something about it and approached a friend who was in a similar situation, thankfully they agreed to start the society with me."
"We felt that the support offered was all or nothing, in emergency situations you can apply for extensions and mitigation however sometimes you just need someone to understand the frustration of missing your train because your child wouldn’t put their shoes on or missing lectures due to childcare issues, that’s how the society began."
To find out more or to join the Parents in Education society for a support network of other parents click here.